RENTON — The Seahawks are positioned to shock the world.
The defensively deficient team could slap an exclamation point on its transition to Jim Mora as head coach if it were to pony up big bucks to pry All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth away from the Tennessee Titans — and other suitors — in free agency.
Or, the Seahawks could address a glaring lack of production from the end position opposite Patrick Kerney by luring Bertrand Berry away from the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals.
The Seahawks also could parlay having two of the top 37 picks in April’s draft into a defensive 1-2 punch — perhaps Texas end Brian Orakpo, who was named Big 12 defensive player of the year after collecting 10 1/2 sacks; and Boston College tackle B.J. Raji, a squatty 325-pounder who had seven sacks last season.
Instead, one of Mora’s most jolting assessments in his first news conference as Seahawks head coach was putting the onus of improvement on the team’s existing defensive linemen — or almost all of them — and their new coach, Dan Quinn.
“I believe we have some really fine young players, and an outstanding player in Pat Kerney,” Mora said. “I also believe that it is the responsibility of a coach to try to — as you evaluate your players — figure out how to put them in the right position to have success. To come up with pass-rush plans, to educate them on protection schemes.”
The fulcrum of the Seahawks pass rush remains on Kerney’s 32-year-old shoulders. He had surgery on the left one in December for the second time in less than a year. Kerney’s 2006 season, his final year with the Atlanta Falcons, also ended prematurely because he needed surgery on his right shoulder.
“It’s a challenge,” Kerney said. “It’s a great challenge, and as much mental as it is physical.
“I had my arm caught in the same vulnerable position twice in 10 months. The odds of that happening again — like our entire team’s injury situation — next year are extremely low. It can happen, but it probably won’t.”
It can’t, because the difference between the Seahawks’ ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks with and without Kerney is glaring. In the seven games he played in 2008, Kerney led the team with five sacks and the defense generated 19 (13 in two games against the San Francisco 49ers).
In the nine games Kerney missed, the defense had 16 sacks — and Kerney remained tied for second on the team, half-a-sack behind co-leaders Darryl Tapp and Brandon Mebane.
Tapp was a second-round draft choice in 2006. Lawrence Jackson, last year’s first-round pick, had two sacks during his rookie season — and both came in the Week 2 loss to the 49ers at Qwest Field. Baraka Atkins, a fourth-round pick in 2007, also had two sacks last season.
That’s 9 1/2 sacks from three high draft choices.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising that Mora uttered, “It’s critical that Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson and Baraka Atkins and Brandon Miller (a late pickup last season) develop into players that go out on the field and be productive.”
That’s why Quinn was hired to coach the defensive linemen and also given the title of assistant head coach.
“If you couple their intelligence, their hunger, with what Dan Quinn brings to the table, I believe you’ll see an increase in our outside pass rush,” Mora said.
His words also were telling concerning the defensive tackles.
“Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant — while not the proto- typical pass rushing defensive linemen — are guys that have those same qualities as the (other) young guys I mentioned,” Mora said. “Once again, coupled with Dan Quinn’s coaching and their desire to be great players, there is some promise there.”
Obvious by his omission in the discussion of the tackles was Rocky Bernard, the longest-tenured member of the Seahawks line but also a free-agent-to-be. Bernard, a fifth-round draft choice in 2002, had 8 1/2 sacks in 2005, but has had only 11 in the past three seasons.
“I would like to be here, but with the way things go in the NFL you never know what’s going to happen,” Bernard said.
The way the defense played in 2008, nothing the Seahawks do to improve the situation would come as a surprise — let alone a shock.
SEAHAWKS ’09: DEFENSIVE LINE
A look at the position as Jim Mora takes over as head coach and the Seahawks move on without Mike Holmgren for the first time since 1998:
WHAT THEY HAVE: Not enough. Not enough pressure on the opposing quarterback. Not enough disruptiveness from the interior of the line. Not enough double-team blocks, which allow the linebackers to flow freely to the ball. That’s how the Seahawks defense plummeted from ranking No. 15 in 2007 to No. 30 in ’08. Mora not only thinks the line has the players to rebound, he is putting it on those players — and new line coach Dan Quinn — to make it happen.
WHAT THEY CAN GET: Only better, regardless of what moves they might make in free agency or the draft. They could make a splash humongous enough to drain Lake Washington by signing Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth as a free agent. But don’t count on it. Haynesworth likely will land in Washington or Houston, as the Redskins and Texans are expected to throw mega-bucks at him. Using the fourth selection in the draft on a defensive lineman also is out, because none in this year’s class is worth that pick.
WHAT THEY NEED: To get Patrick Kerney healthy, and keep him healthy for an entire season. To have their young linemen step up to the next level, especially Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson. The Seahawks also need to turn into reality all the talk of improvement that Mora makes sound so reasonable.
— Clare Farnsworth